A Texas nurse is suing the federal government after Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized $41,377 of her savings to start an African women’s clinic.
Anthonia Nwaorie, 59, planned to bring medical supplies and her cash, which she saved up for years to Nigeria. She desired to open a clinic for women and children in her old village Imo state, where she lived before moving to the U.S. in 1982 and gaining American citizenship 12 years later. However, her plan was delayed when she was stopped from boarding her flight to Nigeria at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and detained for several hours after agents took her money last October, The Guardian reported.
The nurse, who was unaware that currency over $10,000 had to be declared by those also leaving the U.S., waited six months to hear from CBP about her money being returned. When she was sent a CBP letter, she noticed something amiss.
The U.S. attorney’s office had declined to charge her with a crime and wanted to give back her money, but they required her to sign a “hold harmless agreement” in forfeiting her right to pursue legal action against the government over the seizure. She also had to agree to reimburse the government for “any necessary expenses, attorney’s fees, or costs incurred in the enforcement of any part of this agreement.” With the demands, Nwaorie didn’t sign the letter.
She has now filed a class-action lawsuit criticizing the CBP’s practice of civil forfeiture, specifically why people have to waive rights in order to get their seized property returned to them. Many cases have involved people who are never charged with a crime but have their seized property never given back, The Guardian noted.
“Anthonia’s case really demonstrates how abusive civil forfeiture is. Because she’s an outstanding individual, she’s a US citizen, she wants to do good in the world and if she’s not safe from civil forfeiture then nobody is safe from civil forfeiture,” Anya Bidwell, one of Nwaorie’s lawyers, said.
The government has until July 9 to respond to the lawsuit, which also said that Nwaorie had been stopped when she returned to the U.S. after finally going to Nigeria to run her week-long free clinic. The nurse was singled out for additional luggage screening, had her purse sliced open by a CBP officer and threatened to be forever followed by the agency at an airport just a few weeks after her $41,377 was seized.
But Nwaorie is still in good spirits: she will return to Nigeria this year and open a facility to help thousands get basic medical care. She also hopes that the government will change its practices.